by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
With a black president leading the charge to eviscerate Medicare, Medicaid and social security in the name of “deficit reduction,” what is there left of black politics? What is the relevance of so-called black leaders in the Democratic party, and the remains of our historic civil rights organizations?
Barack Obama, Social Security and the Final Irrelevance of the Black Misleadership Class
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“In the U.S. which existed before social security, elders with dwindling assets and little savings unable to work simply went hungry, or were a financial drain upon younger members of their families until they died. This is the real world that corporate Democrats and Republicans intend to bring back.”
The masters of corporate media proclaim that their raid on social security, is a done deal. “Entitlements,” their code word for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, will be cut in the lame duck session of Congress, with Democratic president Barack Obama taking the lead. Though the outlines of this raid have been clear for months, what passes for black America's political leadership class have been silent. As far as we know, they have not been ordered to shut up. They have silenced themselves, in abject deference to the corporate black Democrat in the White House.
It took a Republican Richard Nixon to open relations with China in the seventies. It took Democrat Bill Clinton to impose draconian cuts in welfare and end college courses for prisoners in the nineties. And today, only a black Democratic president can sufficiently disarm Democrats, only a black Democrat can demobilize the black polity completely enough for the raid on “entitlements” to be successful.
For the current crop of black leaders, the only legitimate “black” issues are voting rights, (but not for the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated) minority contracting, and funding for HBCUs and various “civil rights” museums and memorials. But in the real world where most African Americans families live, proposals to raise the retirement age,and cut Medicaid or Medicare are dire economic threats. In the U.S. which existed before social security, elders with dwindling assets and little savings unable to work simply went hungry, or were a financial drain upon younger members of their families until they died. This is the real world that corporate Democrats and Republicans intend to bring back.
The president, as BAR's Glen Ford warns, is about to triangulate himself between the extreme pro-corporate demands of his own “deficit commission,” and voters, in order to inflict a fatal wound on social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Many among the current Congressional Black Caucus are utterly unprepared to stand against the corporate onslaught to gut social security because it is backed by the same forces who have made their political careers possible, and spearheaded by a black Democrat in the White House. The NAACP and similar advocacy organizations too have neutered themselves with a generation of corporate financing and the “reward” of regular meetings with White House officials.
“If real black leadership existed right now, it would stand up for lowering, not raising the retirement age.”
In the real world, very few elders, and percentage-wise, even fewer black elders will be able to lead anything like a dignified life off retirement savings and 401K plans. If real black leadership existed right now, it would stand up for lowering, not raising the retirement age. Besides obligating millions who are physically unable to seek or sustain employment far into their seventh decade, raising the retirement age will add millions of unemployed elders to the work force, where they will compete with their own children and grandchildren for scarce employment opportunities. If black America had a real voice you'd hear it on the radio and TV explaining that lowering the retirement age would open up millions of jobs for deserving younger workers. You'd read in black newspapers and magazines that a modest rise in benefits would encourage more people to retire, and that those benefits would be immediately spent to fire up the economy, unlike the hundreds of billions in “quantitative easing” doled out to banksters who aim to use it to buy up foreign assets.
Inflicting a fatal wound on social security has been the aim of America's business class for generations. It is a project upon which some of them have spent billions. Thanks to our lack of a functioning black press, or electronic media that address black audiences, most African Americans don't know who billionaire Pete Peterson is.
Peterson is a billionaire who announced his intention almost 20 years ago to spend every last dime of his net worth to kill social security. Peterson has used his vast wealth to bankroll conferences, to endow university chairs and departments, to pay for tens of thousands of “studies,” press releases, fabricated broadcast and print news and opinion pieces in hundreds of outlets in every conceivable media market. Peterson Foundation dollars go to hundreds of smaller organizations which place platoons of talking heads every month everywhere from C-SPAN to your local black talk radio station, church and local black chamber of commerce. All of it pushes the fraudulent notion that social security is “a Ponzi scheme,” unsustainable, a drain on the nation's finances, and won't be there when people currently in their thirties and forties get old anyhow. A decades-long campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt has been waged against the American people to prepare for the final undoing of the New Deal and Great Society programs of social security, Medicaid and Medicare. But it's a campaign most of us are barely aware of.
Parallel campaigns have turned what used to be a core of black political leadership into corporate slaves, and done away with black broadcast and print news, and made journalism an all but extinct profession. The American people are unable to see their own opinions reflected in the media they consume, in the politicians they elect, or the policies their governments enact. We are nearly defenseless, and despite black faces in city halls, state houses, the congress and the White House, black America is more defenseless than anyplace else.
“This new black leadership will have to appoint itself. There is no baton to pass.”
Until a new cadre of black political leadership arises, a leadership not dependent on corporate funding, a leadership indifferent to the fortunes of the Democratic party, a leadership accountable only to the millions of ordinary black families can bring itself into being, we will continue to be defenseless. It will have to be a leadership that organizes communities around their actual problems, like mass black incarceration and gentrification, education, broadband access and sustainable local economic development. Like the activists of the forties, fifties and sixties, it will have to be a results-oriented leadership with a much longer view than what can be accomplished in this or the next two sessions of Congress. It will have to be a leadership unafraid of picking fights that it might lose. None of these are characteristics you find among black Democrats or their local organizations.
This new black leadership will have to appoint itself. There is no baton to pass. It will have to organize locally around the country before its impact can be felt on any national scale. Some of it may come from places like the Chicago Teachers Union, which is standing up to corporate school reform and rooting itself firmly among parents and neighborhoods. Some may come from among the many forces involved in the Black Is Back efforts next week in DC, and ongoing. And certainly, whoever manages to create a far-sighted political mobilization in black communities around the question of black mass incarceration will capture the enthusiasm and risk-taking spirit of black youth, so long absent from the American left. It's being worked on. Believe it.
But right now, the disciplined and complicit silence our current crop of black political and advocacy leaders, our Black Misleadership Class have maintained up till now on the coming social security, Medicare and Medicaid raids, has finally and conclusively proven their irrelevance. It's time for something completely different.
Bruce A. Dixon is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party, and managing editor at Black Agenda Report, based in Marietta Ga. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.